What to do in Budapest, Hungary | Where to stay | What to see | What to eat

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Looking for a weekend break? Budapest is top of my list this year; be it for a romantic sightseeing trip (you can walk everywhere so easily), a family holiday (flat streets, wide pavements, lots of ramps for pushing prams around), a boozy couply type getaway, stag/hen doo, or for a girls’ weekend, there’s so much to see, do, and drink – and it’s SO affordable to bar hop, eat out and stroll around the sights, most of which are free. Plus, it’s only just over a two hour flight away from the UK.

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Divided by the Danube river, into two halves, Budapest is the older town of Buda, and the more modern, more lively side of Pest. Top photo is taken from the castle on the Buda side.

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Budapest, on the Danube, by night

Where to stay:

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I’d recommend Nova Apartment Hotel on the Pest side, which is central, so is within a short stumbling distance of some of the best bars and restaurants, and within walking distance of all the sights. We didn’t need to catch a tram or bus while there. The apartments range from studio, to huge! All are well-priced.

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How long for, and what to pack:

Four nights would be an ideal length of time to explore the city. That’s long enough to see the top sights, and feel you’ve made the most of the food and drink scene. It’s not too dressy a city, so you don’t need to pack anything super smart. It’s cold in winter, so take layers (and bobble hats). And comfortable shoes. Although, you can make plenty of stop offs at any of the hundreds of ruin bars along the way, to warm up…

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How to get from the airport to the city:

You can take a bus and two trains, which is around £9, and there are various options for combined bus, sightseeing and other transport ticket options. Here’s a website to look into this more. If, like us, you hadn’t preplanned, and, also like us, prefer to walk everywhere, I’d re on end just catching a taxi, around £25 each way. It’s easy, fast and the best option if you haven’t got time to spend faffing around on public transport.

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Goulash is a beef stew soup dish – cheap and tasty

How much money to take:

Food and drink is affordable, although not quite as dirt cheap as it was a few years ago. You can buy an alcoholic drink for £1.50-£4, a slice of pizza or kebab for around £1, and dinner in a nice place for around £10 each. Afternoon tea cakes with drinks in one of the nice cafes or hotels is around £25 each.

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Top ten things to see and do:

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Szimpla Kert – just one of the bars

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A car in a bar!

1. Szimpla Kert, bars:

Just a five minute walk from Nova Apartments, Szimpla Kert was the sight most recommended to me and is definitely worth a visit. It’s a two floor warehouse type place with around nine bars off a main hall downstairs and a further five or six, upstairs. Wine, beer, cocktails, the bars are all themed and decorated with the kind of things you might find on scrapyard challenge. Altogether, it makes for a fun place to drink and people watch.

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Pinball machines in bars

2. Ruin bars (above)

These are everywhere! Cheap drinking holes in the wall, serving recognisable, branded alcohol. There’s craft beer places popping up, too. Gin here is around 75p for a single…

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3. Heroes square (above)

An iconic sight headed up by statues and war memorials make for a solid sightseeing spot not to be missed. Created in 1896 to celebrate the 1000th year of the founding of Hungary.

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4. Széchenyi baths (above)

A must-do when visiting the city…. and everyone else thinks so, too! Széchenyi baths is probably the most popular attraction in the city, (along with Heroes Square), but it is a sight worth seeing, with its 15 thermal spa baths. Built in 1913, two outdoor pools are heated to 28 degrees celsius, and the middle pool is just freezing – one for the locals! Of who we saw lots taking a dip.

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You must get a massage while you are here. Although the outdoor pools are fun and it feels like an adventure, (take flip flops – running from pool to pool can cause your feet to turn into ice blocks), the indoor pools aren’t quite as exciting, and there is a distinct aroma of cheesy feet… the steam room and sauna are worth a go, though.

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We booked an aroma (gentle) 50 minute massage for two, and along with the day spa ticket price, it cost us around £90 altogether. There are loads of options on ticket combos, but I’d say pick one with a cabin – which is a private changing cubicle, which you can also lock and leave your stuff inside. Take your camera for a few snaps, but then put it away. You don’t want to be that annoying person with the waterproof selfie stick, do you?

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The Parliament buildings as seen at night from the river boat

4. River boat dinner cruise

Sounds cheesy, and we felt massively like grown ups (guess we are?!), but a nighttime dinner cruise, past the Parliament buildings and underneath a lit up chain bridge is the best way to see the sights at their most beautiful. It cost around £35 per person for the cruise and buffet dinner, including two alcoholic drinks each.

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Entertainment on board – classic Hungarian music

This was no ‘beige buffet’, but a lovely spread of traditional Hungarian goods, which gave us a good opportunity to try local delicacies – including sausage in pickled cabbage. Which I never would have ordered but found I have a real taste for!

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5. Walk across the Chain bridge…

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…in the daytime and up the hill to the palace and the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias church, or take the Funicular. The walkway winds up and round the hillside, meaning easy access. And a great chance to take in the views on the way if you walk.

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The Fisherman’s Bastion is so pretty it is a bit like a film set. It was a little quiet in the winter, but I imagine it comes to life in the summer.

6. Gerbeaud cafe

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Visit beautiful Gerbeaud for afternoon tea cakes. It’s handily near to the river and Chain bridge, and shopping streets, so build up an appetite waking up to the Palace before retreating here for a well earned rest.

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7. Street art – look up!

There’s so many cool things painted on the shop and house walls. Huge murals and intriguing graffiti.

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An ice rink at the Basilica Christmas market

8. Christmas markets

Christmas is definitely a fun time to visit. There are lots of Christmas markets to wander round, but our favourite was the one at the Basilica, near the river. The food, the strings of lights, the handicraft trinkets and an ice rink all gave it a festive feel. Hungarians offer more than just mulled wine – try fruit wine in cherry or strawberry, or hot mulled cider. Christmas markets are also where they sell hundreds of chimney cakes and hot giant batter puddings filled with everything from beef stew, to cheese and garlic or Nutella.

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9. Shoes on the Danube

These are laid out along the river, near the Chain bridge and Parliament, to remember the Jews who were lined up and shot, and fell into the river Danube. Interesting how art and sculpture used to be so much about painting or sculpting warriors in memorium, and how now it can be something so much more emotive.

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10. Cake shops

Oh, the cake shops! Go to every one you see. You’ll need the energy to get you to the next ruin bar. Our favourites were all of the cherry and chocolate ones and cherry pastry pies.

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What I’d still like to see:

  1. Corinthia Grand hotel for afternoon tea
  2. Visit the House of Terror
  3. Visit the Opera
  4. Eat lots more at the Food markets
  5. Walk around Margaret island
  6. Walk round more of the parks
  7. Get lost in the back streets, of Buda and Pest, to check out more local cafes, restaurants and bars
  8. Stay at the Gresham Four Seasons

What/where to eat:

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Mazel Tov restaurant, near Nova apartments – falafel, satshuka, chips! (Pictured above)

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A table! For eggs for breakfast and French pastries and quiche (above). The croque Monsieur is a winner. Actually, everything is delicious. We ate here twice and bought three of these cakes to takeaway…

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Christmas market food (below): Chimney cakes, sausage wrapped in cabbage, paprikash chicken, cakes, apple strudel, mulled wine, quiche, cherry pie, beef, meat, brisket – comes with a meaty stocky glaze, not BBQ sweet sticky like we might be used to. Goulash, cocktails (£3-4) beer (£1-£1.50) gin (75p-£1.50) wine (around £1.50)

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Try some delicious beef brisket and a great wine and cocktail list at Fat Mama

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Until next time, Budapest! 

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Our trip to Budapest was 100% independent, and we loved every minute!

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